Supreme Court rules for former public high school football coach who prayed on field

Supreme Court rules for former public high school football coach who prayed on field
The U.S. Supreme Court, 2021. (Official photo)

The U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision has ruled in favor of a former high school football coach who was told by the school district he was not allowed to continue to pray on the field at the 50-yard line. Despite the coach being in uniform and praying on the field immediately after games, the Court called it “private” religious expression.

Opponents of the coach praying on the field were concerned students would feel obligated to join him, suggesting the act was coercive. The coach’s contract was not renewed.

“For eight years, Mr. Kennedy routinely offered prayers after games, with students often joining him. He also led and participated in prayers in the locker room, a practice he later abandoned and did not defend in the Supreme Court,” The New York Times reports.

Joseph Kennedy, “the coach in this case, was praying at midfield after the game and used that very slender thread to argue that this wasn’t school-sponsored religious exercise,” former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance said on MSNBC.

“He even told this story which the Supreme Court repeats and its decision about after being told he couldn’t do this anymore, he skipped a prayer following a game, got in his car and went partway home and felt like he had broken his covenant with God and drove back to pray midfield," Vance added.

“The problem with that is he could just as easily pray in a different location and fulfill what he sees as his obligation,” Vance observed. “It’s the compulsion that’s implicit when an authority figure in this sort of a setting prays that can make young students particularly feel vulnerable to being coerced into participating in this kind of activity.”

“Today, while this opinion may not [have] opened the door to prayer in schools explicitly, it does more to establish certain religions in this country. We need only think about what would happen if a coach for instance, engaged in Muslim prayer at the 50-yard line to imagine what a different sort of a response that might elicit from the surrounding community.”

The majority opinion in the case, Kennedy v. Bremerton, was written by Justice Gorsuch.

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